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Last Updated: Monday, 16 January 2006, 02:32 GMT
Chavez angry over cardinal claim
By Greg Morsbach
BBC News, Caracas

President Hugo Chavez
Chavez and the church have clashed before
Venezuela's leader has demanded an explanation after a Roman Catholic cardinal said that the country was becoming a dictatorship.

President Hugo Chavez described the Church's behaviour as "undoubtedly a provocation" and demanded a full apology for the "insults" and "hate".

He said there was a conspiracy in Rome and at home to damage his government.

So far, there has been no public reaction from the Church leadership to this latest row with President Chavez.

In his weekly TV show, President Chavez showed his anger about what had happened late on Saturday during a Catholic mass at a cathedral in west of the country.

Cardinal Rosalio Castillo Lara, the most senior Catholic clergyman in Venezuela, told thousands of worshippers at a pilgrimage in honour of the Virgin Mary that the country had "lost its democratic course and presents the semblance of a dictatorship".

Venezuela's socialist leader has now hit back by saying this was "shameful for the Catholic Church".

Mr Chavez said he had called the Pope's representative in Caracas, but that he was so far not satisfied with the explanation offered by the Vatican's ambassador.

The Venezuelan head of state said the Church should stick to spiritual work and stay out of politics altogether.

In the past, Mr Chavez and several Venezuelan church representatives have clashed over they way the government is carrying out far-reaching social and economy reforms in the country.

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